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Heather Christo is a chef, blogger, author, and mama to two beautiful daughters who were diagnosed with severe food allergies in 2014 (along with Heather as well.)


After receiving their diagnosis, Heather wasn’t going to complain and fret about what they could no longer have. She decided to take matters into her own hands to pave the way for those seeking an allergen-free lifestyle by creating healthy and delicious recipes.

Her new cook book, Pure Delicious, showcases 150 delectable recipes free from gluten, dairy, egg, soy, tree nuts, peanuts, shellfish and cane sugar.

Pure Delicious also details Heather and her family’s journey to their current allergen-free lifestyle—from the testing process, to trips to the ER, from stumped doctors to gradually cutting foods and ingredients out of their daily lives, and now— their new normal.

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We got to chat with Heather about her new book, time-saving tips in the kitchen, and what it’s like to be a mother of children with food allergies.


A scary trip to the ER for your daughter followed by allergy testing led you to decide to live a completely allergen-free lifestyle. How did you initially wrap your head around going allergen-free?

Heather Christo: Uhhh, in the fetal position with a pillow over my head! (I’m mostly kidding.) For me it was not even a question of whether or not we would do it, or how soon we would do it, or whether we would all participate.

Because I knew it was the best possible path for the health of my children, the only question in my mind was “what’s the process of getting to that end result of great health?”

Once I got over the initial pangs of fear and panic, I got really serious about making a game plan. I work best with a systematic plan and a check-list, so that is how I approached the challenges: taking each one at a time, and going day by day and then week by week.

What was the process like—removing certain foods and ingredients from your body (and kids bodies) as well as from your pantry?

Heather Christo: Eye opening! I bet anyone would be surprised once they started pulling everything out and reading labels.

I had thought that we were eating pretty well as a family until I went through this process.

It wasn’t just that we had a house full of allergen filled foods—it was the amount of processed foods that freaked me out! Packaged snacks and convenience foods (even the “organic,” “healthy” snacks) are processed and full of fillers and I just had not realized how many of them we were eating on a daily basis. We are far more whole foods oriented than before.

How old were your children at the time, and how did they take to this switch?

Heather Christo: They were 5 and 3 when we started tracking and journaling, but just had turned 6 and 4 when we got our test results and went cold turkey, completely overhauling our lives. They reacted as any young children who don’t want to be denied—they were upset.

There was crying and tantrums and begging and guilt trips and it was hard—but only until I found them substitutes for the foods they loved.

Then it got much easier (hopefully my recipes make that much easier for other mothers!) Occasionally we still have a rough moment, especially with youngest who is now 6—but that is being human and we just try to roll with the punches and talk her through it.


A lot of mothers deal with the fear that their child might eat something that they are allergic to by accident. How do you deal with those anxieties, especially at social gatherings?

Heather Christo: I am really lucky in that neither of my children are anaphylactic, so that takes the life and death element out of the equation. However, I still worry.

Initially I had tremendous anxiety and did a bit of hovering, but we came up with better (and more productive!) options that let my children have some flexibility.

I made laminated cards for them and caretakers to carry with the allergies. They also wore medical ID bracelets with their allergies in case any misguided adults were not paying attention or had their own ideas about what my children should be eating. It didn’t take long before my children could be trusted on their own and regular caretakers, teachers, family and friends all knew the drill.

Going completely allergen-free for the whole family can sound intimidating to some. Why would you suggest this lifestyle?

Heather Christo: Without question, despite the challenges of the transition, it is the best thing I have ever done for my family. Health is the foundation for everything good in life.

When you eliminate the stress of physical sickness, or chronic mediocre health, you free up so much time and energy to focus on your life.

Our new diet has also affected moods and learning styles—everything is better because of the way we eat. It may have been difficult when the kids are young, but I am happy I can give them the foundation for a full life filled with nutritious, beneficial eating and the tools for achieving great long term health.


Pure Delicious is a beautiful book, filled with amazing recipes. But it is also an extremely helpful guidebook for those who are looking to learn more about what our bodies can be allergic to, how to substitute safe ingredients, and all the specifics that go along with allergies. Why was it important to you to write Pure Delicious as a guidebook filled with recipes, instead of just a book of recipes?

Heather Christo: When I went through this process I didn’t feel that I had anywhere to turn for answers, and I know many other people who felt that way. It took me a year to piecemeal together information from a ton of different sources which was incredibly frustrating. I also couldn’t find any recipes that addressed all of our needs, so I had to make them up myself.

I knew we had to use our experiences to make this easier for other families and individuals going through similar situations.

I really wanted to take all of that research and all of that (very difficult!) recipe developing and create a one-stop resource for food allergies and sensitivities.

Do your daughters like to cook with you? How do you include them in the cooking process?

Heather Christo: They love it. Because of my job, they have always been in the kitchen with me. I find that my older daughter really likes the technical part of it (measuring, mixing, stirring) and then my youngest likes to help me “style” the food and take pictures. They both like to taste test!

I love to have them participate in making a meal when we can do that.

They are both obsessed with chopping food up (even if it’s still just with a butter knife!) and dumping ingredients in hot pans—basically the more dangerous the better! But at the end of the day I like that they will know how to cook and that they see what goes into the dishes that they like best and are eating on a daily basis.


Every mama is a busy mama. How do you save time in the kitchen? Any meal-planning or grocery shopping tips?

Heather Christo: I do try to plan out at least a few days worth of meals, which saves time grocery shopping.

I also am big on making double batches of pretty much everything to save time.

I will freeze the extra meatballs and sauce and in the time it takes to boil some pasta, you can heat up the sauce and meatballs. Or you can make a huge pot of soup or chili stretch for days. Or I will bake two loaves of banana bread and put one in the freezer, or freeze extra cookies in individual baggies for school lunches.


What are your pantry staples?

Heather Christo: Diamond Kosher salt, Bobs Red Mill Gluten Free All Purpose Flour, Organic Beet Sugar, Organic Rolled Gluten Free Oats, Homemade Muffin Mix, Homemade Pancake and Waffle Mix, Coconut Oil, Olive Oil, Chia Seeds.

What advice or words of wisdom do you have for mamas who want to go allergen-free?

Heather Christo: Try to go into it with a great, positive attitude!

Attitude is highly contagious, and will help set the tone for the process as well as how those around you react to you or your family making such big changes.

If you are cool with it, and seem content in your choices for your family, everyone will follow suit, showing their support.

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When it comes to holiday gifts, we know what you really want, mama. A full night's sleep. Privacy in the bathroom. The opportunity to eat your dinner while it's still hot. Time to wash—and dry!—your hair. A complete wardrobe refresh.


While we can't help with everything on your list (we're still trying to figure out how to get some extra zzz's ourselves), here are 14 gift ideas that'll make you look, if not feel, like a whole new woman. Even when you're sleep deprived.

Gap Cable-Knit Turtleneck Sweater

When winter hits, one of our go-to outfits will be this tunic-length sweater and a pair of leggings. Warm and everyday-friendly, we can get behind that.

$69.95

Gap Cigarette Jeans

These high-waisted straight-leg jeans have secret smoothing panels to hide any lumps and bumps (because really, we've all got 'em).

$79.95

Tiny Tags Gold Skinny Bar Necklace

Whether engraved with a child's name or date of birth, this personalized necklace will become your go-to piece of everyday jewelry.

$135.00

Gap Brushed Pointelle Crew

This wear-with-anything soft pink sweater with delicate eyelet details can be dressed up for work or dressed down for weekend time with the family. Versatility for the win!

$79.95

Gap Flannel Pajama Set

For mamas who sleep warm, this PJ set offers the best of both worlds: cozy flannel and comfy shorts. Plus, it comes with a coordinating eye mask for a blissed-out slumber.

$69.95

Spafinder Gift Card

You can't give the gift of relaxation, per say, but you can give a gift certificate for a massage or spa service, and that's close enough!

$50.00

Gap Stripe Long Sleeve Crewneck

This featherweight long-sleeve tee is the perfect layering piece under hoodies, cardigans, and blazers.

$29.95

Gap Chenille Smartphone Gloves

Gone are the days of removing toasty gloves before accessing our touchscreen devices—thank goodness!

$9.95

Ember Temperature Control Smart Mug

Make multiple trips to the microwave a thing of the past with a app-controlled smart mug that'll keep your coffee or tea at the exact temperature you prefer for up to an hour.

$79.95

Gap Flannel Shirt

Our new favorite flannel boasts an easy-to-wear drapey fit and a flattering curved shirttail hem.

$59.95

Gap Sherpa-Lined Denim Jacket

Stay warm while looking cool in this iconic jean jacket, featuring teddy bear-soft fleece lining and a trendy oversized fit.

$98.00

Gap Crazy Stripe Scarf

Practical and stylish, this cozy scarf adds a pop of color—well, colors—to any winter ensemble.

$39.95

Nixplay Seed Frame

This digital picture frame is perfect for mamas who stay up late scrolling through their phone's photo album to glimpse their kiddos being adorable. By sending them to this smart frame to view throughout the day, you can get a few extra minutes of sleep at night!

$165.00

Gap Crewneck Sweater

Busy mamas will appreciate that this supersoft, super versatile Merino wool sweater is machine washable.

$59.95

This article was sponsored by GAP. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and Mamas.

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There's a lot of discussion about the importance of early education—but what about soft skills like respect and kindness? How can mamas teach children important values like cooperation, gratitude, empathy or politeness?

These values are basic, foundational beliefs that help us know right from wrong, that give balance and meaning to life and that enable us to form community bonds with one another. These soft skills are crucial for kids to learn at any age, and it's important for them to be reinforced, both in the classroom and at home, throughout their childhood.

Here are fundamental ways to build character in your young children:

Kindness

Performing random acts of kindness can have a positive influence on both the individual showing and receiving the kindness. As a family, think of ways that each one of you can show kindness to others. Some ideas may include baking cookies for the mail carrier, donating an unopened toy to a local charity, purchasing canned goods for a homeless shelter or leaving notes and drawings for the neighbors. Include your child in the process so they can see firsthand the joy that kindness can bring to others.

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Responsibility

Children have a strong desire to mimic adult family members. Encourage your child to help complete simple chores in and around the house. Children feel a great sense of accomplishment when they can do their share and feel that sense of responsibility. Two-year-olds will enjoy folding towels, putting books away, putting paper in the recycling box and tending to the garden. Older children may enjoy helping out in the kitchen or with yard work.

Patience

Patience is the ability to demonstrate self-control while waiting for an event to occur. It also refers to the ability to remain calm in the face of frustration. This is a skill which develops in children as they mature. While it is important to practice patience, adults should also be realistic in their expectations, evaluate daily routines and eliminate long periods of wait time from the schedule.

Politeness

Schedule a time when the whole family can sit down together for dinner. Model good manners and encourage older siblings and other members of the family to do the same. Use phrases such as, "Can you please pass the potatoes?" or "Thank you." Be sure to provide your child with guidance, by explaining what to do as opposed to what not to do.

Flexibility

Change your routines at home to encourage children to be flexible in their thinking and to try new things. Try being flexible in the small things: enjoy breakfast for dinner, eat ice cream with a fork, have your child read a bedtime story to you or have a picnic in the living room. Let your child know it is okay to do things in a different way.

Empathy

Children are beginning to understand different emotions and that others have feelings. Throughout their childhood, talk about their feelings and share one's own feeling with them as well. By taking the time to listen to how children are feeling, you will demonstrate to them that you care and reinforce with them that you fully understand how they are feeling.

Cooperation

Coordinate playdates or take your children to events where they can practice introducing themselves to other children, and potentially with adults. Find games and other activities that require turn-taking and sharing.

Gratitude

Encourage your child to spend five minutes every day listing the things they are grateful for. This could be done together just before bedtime or after dinner.

Respect

As parents, our goal is to teach children to recognize that even though people have different likes and dislikes or beliefs and ideas, they must treat each other with manners and positivity. Respect should be shown when sharing, cleaning up, and listening to others. Always teach and model the Golden Rule: treat others the way you would like to be treated. Also remind children that respect can be shown towards things in the classroom. Treating materials and toys correctly shows appreciation for the things we have.
Learn + Play

Medical researchers and providers consider a woman's postpartum period to be up to 12 months after the delivery of baby, but too often, health insurance doesn't see it the same way. Nearly half of the births in the United States are covered by Medicaid or the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) and while the babies who are born during these births are eligible for Medicaid or CHIP for a year, their mothers often lose their coverage 60 days after delivering their child. There is clear data showing 70% of new moms will have at least one health complication within a year of giving birth.

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This week, members of Congress' Subcommittee on Health met to mark up H.R. 4996, the "Helping Medicaid Offer Maternity Services (MOMS) Act of 2019, and it was favorably forwarded to the full Committee.

What does this mean? It means that while this bill still has a ways to go before it potentially becomes law, its success would see states get the option to provide 12 months of continuous coverage postpartum coverage to mothers on Medicaid. This would save lives.

As we at Motherly have said many times, it takes a considerable amount of time and energy to heal from birth. A mother may not be healed 60 days out from delivering. She may still require medical care for perinatal mood disorders, breast issues like thrush and mastitis, diabetes, and the consequences of traumatic births, like severe vaginal tearing.

Cutting off Medicaid when her baby is only 2 months old makes mom and baby vulnerable, and the Helping Moms Act could protect families from dire consequences.

The United States has the highest rate of maternal deaths in the developed world, and according to the CDC, "about 700 women die each year in the United States as a result of pregnancy or delivery complications." This is not okay, and while H.R. 4996 is not yet signed into law this bill could help change this. It could help address the racial disparities that see so many Black mothers and Native American mothers dying from preventable causes in the first year of motherhood.

A report from nine American maternal mortality review committees found that there were three leading causes of death that occurred between 43 days and one year postpartum: cardiomyopathy (32.4%), mental health conditions (16.2%), and embolism (10.8%) and multiple state maternal mortality review committees have recommended extending Medicaid coverage to one year postpartum in order to prevent these deaths.

Basically, making sure that moms have have continuous access to health care the year after a birth means doctors can spot issues with things like depression, heart disease and high blood pressure at regular check-ups and treat these conditions before they become fatal.

The Helping Moms Act is a step forward in the fight for maternal health and it proves that maternal health is truly a bipartisan issue. Republicans and Democrats alike recognize the value in providing support for mothers during the postpartum period.

The Helping MOMS Act was was introduced by Democratic Congresswoman Robin Kelly of Illinois, chair of the Congressional Black Caucus Health Braintrust. It was co-lead by Texas Republican Michael Burgess (who is also a medical doctor), as well as Georgia Republican Buddy Carter, Washington Republicans Jaime Herrera Beutler and Cathy McMorris Rodgers and Ayanna Pressley from Massachusettes and Lauren Underwood of Illinois (both Democrats).

"Incentivizing postpartum Medicaid expansion is a critical first step in preventing maternal deaths by ensuring new moms can see their doctor. I'm proud that my colleagues, on both sides of the aisle, came together to put an end to the sad reality of American moms dying while growing their families," said Kelly. "We can't allow the perfect to be the enemy of the good. This is a good, bipartisan first step, but it must be the first of many."

It doesn't matter what your political stripes, reducing America's maternal mortality stats should be a priority.

News

Whether you're having a low-key Friendsgiving with your closest friends or prepping to host your first big Thanksgiving dinner with both families, figuring out all of the menu details can be the most overwhelming step. How much should I cook? What ingredients do I need? How does one actually cook a turkey this big?

But, don't worry, mama—HelloFresh is lending a helping hand this year with their Thanksgiving box in collaboration with Jessica Alba. Because you already have enough on your plate (and we're not talking stuffing).


Here are the details. You can choose from two Thanksgiving boxes: Turkey ($152) or beef tenderloin ($132). The turkey box serves 8-10 people while the beef one will serve 4-6 and both are $6.99 to ship. We got to try both and they're equally delicious so you can't go wrong with either one, but the turkey does require a 4-day thaw period so keep that in mind. And if you're wondering what the sides are, here's a sneak peek:

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  • Garlic mashed potatoes
  • Green bean casserole with crispy onions
  • Ciabatta stuffing with chick sausage and cranberries
  • Cranberry sauce with orange, ginger and cinnamon
  • Apple ginger crisp with cinnamon pecan crumble

While someone still has to do the actual cooking, it's designed to take the stress out of Thanksgiving dinner so you can focus on spending time with your loved ones (or watching Hallmark Christmas movies). You don't have to worry about grocery shopping, portion sizes, recipe curation or forgetting that essential thing you needed to make the meal perfect. Everything is super simple to make from start to finish—it even comes with a cooking timeline.

Orders are open through November 21 and can be delivered anytime through November 24. Even better? You don't need a subscription to order.


ORDER A BOX

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My mother's death propelled me to start the process of becoming a parent as a 43-year-old single woman. As my connection to her remained strong in spirit after her death, I was ready to experience the same bond with my own child. I began the journey with Intra Uterine Insemination (IUI), and after three failed attempts at getting pregnant, I decided to adopt.

The adoption process is a lengthy and humbling one—one that includes fingerprints, background checks, references, classes, doing a profile of yourself and your life that birth parents eventually use to choose adoptive families.

After my application was approved, a young couple chose me just a month later. I couldn't believe my fortune. But I had to get to work and prepare the house for my baby's arrival. I bought the best of everything—bassinets, clothes, diapers, car seats… the list goes on. I told close friends and family that it was finally happening.

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But all of this was in vain. The day I was supposed to pick my daughter up, I learned that the birth parents had changed their minds. They no longer wanted to give their daughter up for adoption. As time passed, it was difficult to endure no interest from potential parents but the faith in believing what is meant to be continued. To increase my potential, I enrolled with a second adoption agency.

A few months later, as I was getting ready to try IVF for the first time, I received a phone call to let me know that a woman had selected me to adopt her child. So I opted out of IVF and found myself in a hospital delivery room with the birth mother, assisting her in the delivery of MY child. It was a boy! I was so thrilled, and he was just adorable.

After six years of losses and disappointments, I was able to bring him home and awaited the final word that the mother and father have given the needed consent. I was getting ready to watch the Super Bowl with him dressed in football gear, I got a phone call.

Once again, the adoption agency informed me that the birth mother had changed her mind. That evening, I had to return the baby to his birth mom. I was heartbroken, and my hopes were shattered.

What now? Going back to IVF meant starting from scratch, and that would take a minimum of six months before being able to really start getting pregnant. I was 49 years old, and the clock was ticking. I really wanted to be a mom by the age of 50.

I was in Chicago, recovering from a collapsed lung, when I received yet another phone call from the adoption agency. An expecting mom had chosen me and had already signed over all of her rights. This little girl was mine. For real, this time. But I had to get to Southern New Jersey by Thursday to pick her up from the hospital.

After negotiating with my doctor to give me the green light to leave while recovering from my condition, I hopped on a train, and 22 hours later, I arrived to New York City in a massive snow storm. I took longer than expected to get to her, but after navigating the icy roads of New Jersey, I met my daughter!

She is now 2 years old, and she has changed my life in ways that just can't be fully described. What I can say is that I now understand my mother's love even more and her devotion to me and my siblings, and as I am sharing the same with my daughter, my bond to my mother keeps on growing.

Becoming a mom at 49 was never what I had envisioned. But whether you are trying to conceive or have decided to adopt a child, the road to becoming a parent is rarely easy. I know that inner strength and believing in what was meant to be kept me moving forward.

Life
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